Interview with José Manuel Álvarez González, parish priest of La Zarza (by Claudia Tejada Mateos)

José Manuel Álvarez González, is 28 years old. He is the parish priest of La Zarza and Alange and, despite his young age, this is not his first destination.

It comes from Villanueva del Fresno. He left home when he was 11 years old to study ESO and Baccalaureate at the Diocesan School of Badajoz. It was in those years when he considered his priestly vocation. He decided to enter the Major Seminary of Badajoz, where he remained for the 6 years of his formation and one more year as a deacon.

Is La Zarza your first destination? How have you felt?

La Zarza is not my first destination. I have been in Oliva de la Frontera, Valle de Santa Ana and Brovales, for a full year as a priest and another year previously as a deacon with the parish priest of said parish. Both there and here I felt very welcomed and accompanied by the people of the parish and eager to work and give myself to everyone who needs me, encouraging the pastoral care and faith of the communities.

The way the world is, in which vocations and especially religious vocations are scarce, what led you to be ordained a priest?

Even as a child I had some concerns, but with adolescence it took a second or third place. When I met a new priest, I was infected by his desire to work for the kingdom of Christ, in short, his joy in serving the Lord from the priesthood.

Since when did it become clear to you that this was your vocation?

It was a complicated process, and in part it still is, but I always count on the help of the one who I feel chose me for his service. This is not without moments of difficulty, even quite a few doubts.

What was the reaction of your closest circle when you found out that you would dedicate your life to the priesthood?

I had always been very linked to the parish, and even so, my friends were quite surprised. But they understood, supported me and were very happy for me.

It was also a surprise for my family. During the Eucharist, on the day of my high school graduation, the priest invited me to go up to the altar and present my decision for the following year. It was exciting for everyone because no one knew anything, not even my parents and my brothers.

One of the things that is most commented on here in La Zarza when it is said that there is a new priest, is how young he is. Why does he think he surprises?

Well, I am the youngest priest in our diocese, the last to have been ordained for this ministry. People are not used to seeing 28-year-old priests, much less young people who give their lives for this service.

People still don’t know me. At first, it may seem a little serious, but I assure you that I am not serious at all in my daily life. My character is completely different. The most important thing for me would be to leave this town knowing that I have helped the Zarceños meet Christ more and better, that they can deepen their faith.

Have you ever questioned your calling?

This life is not free of doubts, but on the contrary, it is something that must be assumed in one’s own life. Don’t those who are going to be parents, those who are going to get married, those who choose to work in a specific profession, those who are going to choose their studies for the future… have doubts? The doubt comes about the one who sets out to live in a concrete way and does not hesitate to give his life to the service of Christ.

Being a priest seems more than just a job. What other issues does it involve? Have you ever thought about doing something else? If you had not been a priest, what else would you have liked to dedicate yourself to?

Certainly, it may seem that the priest is there to celebrate masses, for catechesis and little else. But we have in our hands the greatest treasure of our people, the intimacy between the creature and its creator. As Father Pedro Arrupe would say: “I am a poor man who tries to spoil the work of God as little as possible.” And that’s where everything that goes through the hearts of the Zarceños comes in, being open to their joys, their sadness, their worries, their desires, their growth in faith.

Before deciding to become a priest, I thought I was clear about my vocation towards medicine. But what we want is one thing and what we are called to is another.

Changing things a bit, why do you think there is a lack of faith among young people? Do you think the church has any responsibility in this?

To speak of the church, in general terms, is to ultimately accuse an incorporeal entity for which we do not know who is responsible.

We are all responsible for the transmission of our faith. In the process of life, God touches the heart of each person when he sees fit. Obviously, there is a responsibility on the part of the church, but that church is not the priest, it is not the Pope, it is not the bishop, it is not the catechists… We form that church together and together we transmit the faith.

There are postulates of the church that have a difficult fit in today’s society; even Pope Francis has expressed a different opinion on some of these issues. For example, the official position of the church regarding the use of prophylaxis and regarding homosexual marriage. Would you like to share his opinion on any of these topics?

I am sent by the church to a place to transmit the Word of God. These are common questions, and perhaps not the fundamental ones, but the church moves at its own pace, sometimes very slowly. We have to trust that everything has its own process.

I am not the one to say when and how this or that thing should change, I simply make my personal reflection and welcome everyone who approaches me, trying to advise them in the best possible way to avoid any type of suffering that I feel in myself. the mercy of God.

Some church rules may not make sense to young people. For example, in the case of celibacy, what would be your opinion?

I believe that everything has its function, and I am convinced that celibacy is not counterproductive. Celibacy is often accused of causing dramatically painful problems such as pedophilia. But doesn’t pedophilia exist outside the clergy or in married people? We cannot blame celibacy for a serious emotional disorder that causes this type of action.

Furthermore, I have always been clear about one thing: as I have seen my parents’ marriage with their four children live, I believe it is totally incompatible with priestly life. Most days I leave home at 9:00 in the morning and arrive at 10:00 at night, including the weekend. It’s not ideal for me in a marriage. I think it is not reconcilable, although I am not opposed to any decision that can be made in the church.

What do you think is the role of the church today in terms of equality between men and women?

I think that good steps are being taken in that regard, perhaps slow for many, but if we look at the last century of church history, a lot of progress has been made. Making the decision at a political level is simple, but let’s remember that the church functions on a global level and each decision made by Rome affects the world. It is a completely different government.

I firmly believe that little by little we will see women in the place that truly belongs to them, the place that was always theirs and that they have abandoned so many times.

The church has very traditional norms, yet there seems to be a certain openness. Is there any change that you would like the church to consider that is positive for current and future society?

The change that I would like would be to decouple faith, sacraments and Christian life from social events. And by this I mean that we want the church to change, for its norms to be different, for everything to move forward, but we do not stop doing things because we have to.

Given that it is a very vocational dedication, I can understand that someone who dedicates his life to this vocation wants to leave an imprint on the world around him. What would it be?

Father Pedro Arrupe said: “I cannot resign myself to thinking that when I die the world will continue as if I had not existed.” He does not say this because he wants to go down in history for having done great things and be remembered for being him, but what he wants to convey is that when he dies only Christ will remain.

And in a way I would like it to be that way. Not to be remembered for what I did on a human level like José Manuel Álvarez González, but to be remembered by that person who helped me meet the Lord, to live my faith more intensely, to get closer to that Christian community that I had forgotten about. … If that is really the mark I leave, I will leave satisfied the day God calls me into his presence.

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